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Net Intruders

ANOTHER round of techno-subversion is in the news. The Code Red computer virus, or more accurately "worm," has been attempting a second invasion of vulnerable machines during the first half of August, using a breach in Microsoft's NT and 2000 operating systems.

These attacks have become an unfortunate facet of the information age, a high-tech version of vandalism.

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The creators of the original "worm" - which enters systems without help from computer users, such as opening an e-mail - have spun off mutant versions that have spread beyond the 250,000 systems invaded by Code Red in July. China, South Korea, and Japan are among countries reporting new Code Red problems.

The concern is that Code Red's massive scanning of the Internet for new computers to invade could clog the Net, slowing down or stopping all kinds of e-commerce. But "patches" available from Microsoft have been downloaded by the thousands to protect business and government computers, the worm's main targets. Thus damage has been limited.

Clearly, computer users can take sensible precautions to protect their systems. But security is a responsibility that shouldn't rest primarily on users. This latest virus episode raises, with emphasis, questions about the responsibility of manufacturers to build in more effective protection.

Can't Microsoft, the world's preeminent maker of business software, create products that are less vulnerable to sabotage? Code Red should give the company a push in that direction, particularly as it readies a new product, Windows XP. Adding to the push, insurance companies are starting to charge users of Microsoft products higher rates for "hacker insurance."

The computer-buying public should demand more-secure systems.